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Industry Spotlight > Advisors

Schwab’s Bernie Clark: RIA Growth 'Is Coming From All Directions'

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As head of Schwab Advisor Services, Bernie Clark oversees a business that provides custodial, operational and trading support to more than 7,500 independent investment advisory firms with $1.6 trillion in assets under management, according to the company.

Clark has more than 30 years of financial industry experience serving individual and institutional investors. He began his career at Schwab in 1998 as senior vice president of trading and operations for Schwab Institutional.

He later worked on the retail business as leader of the client services organization, before returning to the advisor business to lead the sales and relationship management organization. He took on his current role as head of Schwab Advisor Services in 2010.

Via email, we asked Clark a series of questions that touched not only on his professional knowledge but also what he does off the clock.

1. What market indicator, industry statistic or advisor trend are you watching most closely right now and why?

Bernie Clark: The growth dynamics across the RIA profession are what I watch most closely, and they’re all signaling the same thing: independent advice is winning in the marketplace.

Assets managed by RIAs have tripled in the last 10 years. Growth is coming from all directions.

Financial advisors moving into this space brought $180 billion dollars with them in 2020, and brand-new RIAs accounted for nearly 40% of it. Wherever you look, more advisory firms, including traditional brokerages, want to look more like RIAs.

2. How has it been changing recently and how do you expect it to change in 2022?

There is increasing recognition and understanding of the fiduciary experience, and investors are demanding it, along with transparency, more and more. RIAs are best positioned for the growth that is coming their way, and we see firms preparing for that growth through specialization and scale.

In 2022, M&A will continue to be a big part of the growth story. More than 60% of RIAs are interested in acquiring another firm. While it is harder to find sellers than buyers, they’re out there. Sometimes the buyers are also sellers. It’s a fascinating time to be in this industry.

3. What would you suggest advisors do now or consider doing in the future about it?

Regardless of an advisor’s plans for growth, my suggestion is that they keep their purpose at the core of all they do, which will serve them well no matter which direction they go.

We know that a firm that serves clients well is also a great place to work. Talent is the differentiator of the future, so being a great place to work is critical for what’s coming.

4. Who or what critical source of information do you track, or follow online, to keep up with this or other trends?

More than anything, our clients are the best source of information and trends and keeping up with them is the best part of my job.

We listen to our clients in so many ways — anecdotally and formally, and through the various forums that allow us to come together like our Advisory Board and our DEI Advocacy Board.

Clients also share things with us through our RIA Benchmarking Study and our Independent Advisor Outlook Study. Our annual IMPACT conference is also a terrific source of connection for us with clients, especially when it is in person, which we are so looking forward to next year.

5. Are you changing any of your work habits at this stage of the pandemic?

Not so much. Like everyone, I’ve learned I can work from home really well. I am enjoying spending time in the office again, though.

We’re beginning our “Return to Office” efforts next month in earnest, and I am excited for what’s next as we come back together, but in a much more flexible environment for everyone.

There are so many things that come from being together. Mentoring is a big one, and that matters in this industry. We also recognize the importance of values, culture, connection that come with being together in the office.

Today we have thousands of new employees who haven’t ever seen the inside of a Schwab office, and I’m sure they’d like to.

Having said that, we know employees want flexibility, and we believe our new hybrid arrangement will give them that and help meet the changing nature of the workplace and the needs of our employees. It’s critical we are able to attract and retain top talent, so we need to get it right.

6. What’s your biggest hobby and what was the last activity you did related to it?

I’m a big sports fan, so going to Phoenix Cardinals games probably tops the list. They’ve had some great wins this year, and that makes going to the games way more fun!

7. How about your latest charitable activity?

Schwab Volunteer Week is an annual tradition at Schwab. For nearly two decades, thousands of Schwabbies have come together during this special week each year to work onsite and offsite on projects that help the underserved improve their financial well-being.

In addition to leading financial education workshops, volunteers build homes, remodel and paint shelters, serve food, work on community beautification, and much more. I love giving back alongside other employees who call Phoenix home.

Schwab employees are looking forward to our new Moneywise America program, which builds on the firm’s long-standing commitment to helping the next generation with financial literacy skills.

Moneywise America will provide high-quality personal finance education for teens, focusing on underresourced communities. It’s extra special because we are training a corps of Schwab employee volunteers to facilitate it across the country.

8. What book are you reading now and why?

“Against Empathy — The Case for Rational Compassion” by Paul Bloom. It was a gift from a colleague, and it’s an interesting take on what empathy does to decision-making.

9. Is there any special holiday plan you’d like to mention?

My wife and I are getting really excited about our second grandbaby, who is due to arrive early next year. We’re all looking forward to some down time at the end of the year and to watching the Cardinals and the Suns continue to win games!

10. Is there any other piece of advice you’d like to share with our advisor audience?

I’d like to share something I heard about leadership recently that resonated with me, and that is this: Leadership is an expression, not a possession. It is a myth that leadership resides in power, status, titles and authority, and that only those in a position to lead can move others forward.

Everyone can make the choice to lead at any time because leadership resides in actions, messages, decisions, behaviors and choices. Anytime someone acts to make people or situations better, they are leading.


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